Each month, it seems as if there is more bad news from the government about the economy, which makes it difficult to maintain the same lifestyle that you may have had before the economic downturn. Food and fuel prices are soaring, stretching the budgets of many citizens. In addition, healthcare costs are soaring, meaning that for many people, one serious illness could spell financial disaster. This has left many people wondering how they can live more simply and lead happy, healthy lives in spite of what is going on in the world around them.
What is Simple Living?
Simple living is the art of living with only what you need to survive and be happy. Those of us living in developed countries often confuse needs with wants. For example, having a television with cable or satellite channels may be nice, but it is not a necessity. For most people, a cell phone is not a necessity. Additionally, processed convenience foods are also not necessities.
We rationalize our wasteful purchases by telling ourselves that we deserve these luxuries and that without them, our lives would be unbearable. This is probably not the case. One can easily adjust to life without television or a cell phone. Similarly, cooking nutritious meals from healthy, basic ingredients will cost less money and improve your health. To live simply, you must separate out the essentials and stick to those necessities, while doing away with the “extras” that are not needed. Upon closer examination and a trial period of living more simply, you may even discover that you don’t want the extras, and that you are happier and healthier without them.
Prioritizing Needs and Wants
The first order of business for beginning to live simply is to prioritize the needs and wants in your life. Decide which items are absolutely essential and which, although nice to have, you can live without if you were pressed to do so. When you are finished, you should have a core list that is composed of food, shelter and transportation.
When you have written out the list, examine it again. On first pass, you may have been unwilling to give up some of the “wants.” For example, luxuries such as a morning latte may have remained on the list when they should have been eliminated.
Putting the Plan into Action
In the quest to live simply, some people prefer to start slowly, eliminating the obvious “extras” first, like paring down the number of television channels to reduce a large cable bill. Identify two to three items that you could give up this week, and eliminate them.
If you can, take the time to allow yourself to become used to the changes. Then, after two weeks or one month, evaluate their effect on your life. Ask yourself if you really missed having unlimited data on your cell phone, for example. Look at how the changes affected your finances. If you saved money and didn’t miss the item or grew to miss it less over time, for example, then you have made a good decision.
The next step is to revisit your list and select two to three more items to reduce or eliminate. Then, do away with these items and try living without them for a few weeks to a month. Repeat the evaluation process to determine if you truly needed these items or if their absence is having a positive, rather than a negative, effect. Repeat the process of reducing unneeded expenses and services until you have cut down as far as you care to go, or as far a you need to go if your quest for simple living is the result of economic necessity.
If You Can’t Do Without the Eliminated Item
Giving up some luxuries will be more difficult than others. For example, you may find that you really miss the Sunday evening dinner at your favorite restaurant. Give it time. If you still miss it after one month, commit to trying to do without it for two more weeks or another month. If you still miss the indulgence even after that, consider adding it back in but with modifications. For example, instead of going all out at dinner and ordering an appetizer or dessert, have just the entree and eliminate the rest. This way, you can still enjoy your meal out, but with fewer calories and less money spent.
Evaluating the Effects
When you have finished the process and are truly enjoying simple living, according to your definition, take a moment to assess the results. Compare your current monthly budget to the one you had before you began paring down to the essentials. Then, compare other areas of your life. For example, you may have lost weight by eating out less often, or you may have become closer to your family by spending more quality time with them at home or at the park than by going out and spending money.
In the end, you will find that the quality of your life has significantly improved by making these small steps toward focusing on what is really important: you and your loved ones. The expenses and distractions that you gave up probably were not only draining your wallet and hurting your health, but they were probably also taking time away time and energy away from enjoying your family and your life.
Spread the Word about Simple Living
If your quest for simple living was successful, spread the word. Pass along this article and add your testimonial. Nearly everyone can benefit financially, spiritually, and emotionally from cutting away distractions and expenses and using the newly gained time, money, and energy where it matters.